(No. 13)


Journal articles

In "Confronting local dialect and culture issues in the classroom" (Language, Culture and Curriculum vol.12, no.1, pp.31-41, 1999), Valerie Youssef and Beverly-Anne Carter describe the experience of preparing Spanish-speaking Venezuelan EFL students to perform a play in Trinidad Creole. The students were enrolled in a short course in Trinidad at the Lower Intermediate level. According to the abstract of the article (p.31):

The exercise was used to teach local culture in relation to the native culture of the students and also to teach functional and grammatical re-lations between the local Standard and Creole varieties. It also served to enhance a focus on pronunciation, stress and intonation. The pro-cess was enthusiastically pursued by the entire group, bringing them to a greater communi-cative awareness than might have been achieved by other means in equivalent time. The use of local drama for the purposes outlined is recommended in the broader context of a need to equip 21st century students with the tools to manipulate the international variety(ies) most pertinent to their specific situation and needs.

In the same journal is: "A case study of the sociopolitical dilemmas of Gullah-speaking students: Educational policy and practices" by Meta Van Sickle, Olaiya Aina and Mary Blake (Language, Culture and Curriculum vol.15, no.1, pp.75-88, 2002). The article starts out with the statement (p.75): "Early research in reading comprehension has supported the belief that divergent language usage has a negative impact on the visible demonstration of academic achievement." However, they put forward the alternative point of view that lower comprehension scores "may be more a function of teachers not accepting a reader's particular dialect than an actual lack of comprehension".

To investigate this question with regard to knowledge of science and mathematics, the authors conducted an in-depth qualitative study, over 3 years, of 12 students on Johns Island (South Carolina) who speak a negatively valued creole language, Gullah. This involved working with the students, listening to their stories, and discovering their own knowledge and world view. Then they did content-specific language development with the students to enable them "to communicate their knowledge to the outside world" (p.81). The authors noted:

Because our goal was definitely not to eradicate their native language and culture, we focused on code switching as a means of preserving their heritage while giving them two ways to communicate about the same topics. In addition, the alternative terminology that we used with the students was designed to stretch both their thinking and their precise use of words… (pp.81-2)

This resulted in the following (p.82): "While maintaining their ability to describe a 'right' answer in a holistic manner (as is typical in the Gullah language), they have become more precise and detailed in their writing (more typical of Standard English)." The authors report that all students seem to have benefited as a result of the project, in terms of being released from the Special Education Program, passing the South Carolina Exit Exam, or graduating with a diploma. The article concludes with the following suggestions (p.87):

1. teachers must learn enough about the culture and language of the children to be able to find the right answers in what the students do say.

2. Schools must develop a local curriculum that builds on the students' strengths and gives them options for communicating the knowledge they possess. It is necessary to understand the life experiences that the students have in order for the teacher to use relevant examples.

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Book chapters

"Linguistics, education, and the Ebonics firestorm" by John R. Rickford is a chapter in Linguistics, Language and the Professions, papers from the Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics 2000, edited by James E. Alatis, Heidi E. Hamilton and Ai-Hui Tan (Georgetown Uni-versity Press, Washington DC, 2002), pp.25-45. The author presents disturbing statistics showing how K-12 schools have been failing African-American students, and describes how the 1996 resolution by the Oakland School Board attempted to take corrective action. He illustrates how the goal of the nine recommendations was basically to use the students' home language - African-American Vernacular English, or Ebonics - as a bridge to learning standard English. The goal was not to teach Ebonics to African-American students, as was falsely portrayed by the media and most commentators.

The chapter goes on to present four arguments for the Contrastive Analysis (CA) approach advocated for use by the Oakland School Board resolutions: (1) The approach proceeds from a position of strength, using a valid, systematic variety that the students are already competent in. (2) It is likely to have positive effects on both teachers' expectations and vernacular-speaking students' self-identity and motivation. (3) Other alternatives, such as ignoring or constantly correcting students' vernaculars, simply do not work. (4) Several empirical studies demonstrate that CA really works. Finally, the author refutes several arguments against the CA approach.

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The book Literacy in African American Communities edited by Joyce L. Harris, Alan G. Kamhi and Karen E. Pollock (Erlbaum, Marwah NJ, 2001) contains a chapter by Noma LeMoine entitled "Language variation and literacy in African American students" (pp.169-94). This chapter examines "the implications of language variation for teaching SAE [Standard American English] and school literacy to African American children for who standard English is not native" (p.170). It starts out with background information about the origins of what she calls "African American Language" and about the "deficit" and "difference" perspectives towards the language. Then the author describes six approaches used by effective teachers of African American SELLs [Standard English Language Learners] (pp.176-87):

1. Build knowledge and understanding of non-standard languages and the students who use them.

2. Integrate linguistic knowledge about African American language into instruction.

3. Use second language acquisition methods to support acquisition of school language and literacy.

4. Use a balanced approach to literacy acquisition that incorporates language experience, whole language/access to books, and phonics.

5. Infuse the history and culture of SELLs into the curriculum.

6. Consider the learning styles and strengths of African American SELLs in designing instruction.

The remainder of the chapter lists important features of the classroom environment and several kinds of instructional strategies that foster literacy acquisition in African American SELLs.

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The author of the book chapter just described, Noma LeMoine, is director of the Los Angeles School District's Academic English Mastery Program (AEMP), designed to serve the language needs of students who are not proficient in Standard American English (SAE). A comprehensive evaluation of this program was conducted in 1998-99. The report of this evaluation, prepared by Ebrahim Maddahian and Ambition Padi Sandamela, was published by the Program Evaluation and Research Branch of the Research and Evaluation Unit of the Los Angeles Unified School District in 2000 (Publication No. 781).

The main purpose of this evaluation was to determine the effectiveness of the Academic English Mastery Program (AEMP) in increasing students' general and academic use of Mainstream English Language (MEL) as measured by the Language Assessment Writing and Speaking Measures. A pretest-posttest control design was used to examine the impact of the AEMP over time. The pretest-posttest condition allows measuring student academic gain influence by confounding effects of maturation (time) and program effect. A control group was selected to isolate program impact from the maturation effect. (

The most important finding of the study was:

There was a statistically significant and educa-tionally meaningful difference between experi-mental and control groups at the end of the pro-gram as measured by the Language Assessment Writing Test. AEMP program participants out-performed those who did not participate in the program. (p.vii).

The authors concluded that the AEMP is "an effective program in improving academic use of English language for speakers of non-mainstream English language" (p.vii) and recommended that the program be continued and expanded.


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Resources for teachers

The Department of Education in the state of Western Australia has just published a useful resource kit about Aboriginal English called Ways of Being, Ways of Talk (2002). It is the result of a collaborative project between the Department of Education, Western Australia, and the Centre for Applied Language and Literacy Research, Edith Cowan University. The materials comprise four videos and a booklet including information about using the materials, a glossary of terms, scripts and background papers for each of the videos, and information on other related resources, readings and websites. The videos are: "A shared world of communication", "Now you see it, now you don't", "Two-way learning and two kinds of power" and "Moving into other worlds".